Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 9, 2014

Resident alleges city official violated public access laws

By Boris Ladwig Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG – For the second time in two months, Greensburg resident Hershel Houk plans to file a formal complaint with a state agency alleging that Greensburg officials are violating public access laws.

Houk in November filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor alleging that Clerk-Treasurer Bridgett Weber on Nov. 8 in a phone conversation denied him access to records concerning Kathy Reynolds, the former Greensburg planning director, who had been let go by Mayor Gary Herbert in March 2012. Houk previously had requested information in writing.

The Public Access Counselor is a state-funded office that provides advice and assistance concerning Indiana’s public access laws to the public and government officials and employees.

Weber, in her response to Houk’s complaint, wrote that she did not immediately provide the information because she had to first verify what information she was allowed to release, and that Houk filed the complaint before she could respond.

In his ruling, Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said he could not determine whether Weber had violated the Access to Public Records Act, but encouraged her to produce the employee records she was allowed to release as soon as she could.

“In the event the clerk-treasurer outright denied your request for all information relating to the employee during the November 8, 2013 conversation, the clerk-treasurer would have been in violation of the Access to Public Records Act. I cannot state conclusively if that was the case,” Britt told Houk in his reply.

“You filed your formal complaint only seven business days after the conversation regarding the personnel file. Seven days is well within the reasonable time frame for an agency to produce requested records. Therefore, if the clerk-treasurer was merely trying ‘to find out’ if the information could be released, as she alleges, then no violation would exist.”

The opinions issued by the Public Access Counselor are advisory only. The agency has no statutory authority to compel a public agency to either produce records or reverse an action made in a public meeting. Only a court may compel action.

Weber told the Daily News on Wednesday that except for some information about credit card statements, Houk has received all the information he requested, including about 26 pages of budgets for the city, schools and city utilities. Weber said Houk has requested information about all city-issued credit cards for several years, which, Weber said, amounts to hundreds of pages. That would include records for each time that a police officer, fire fighter or trash truck driver uses a city-issued card to purchase fuel.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time,” Weber said. “I do what I can.”

She said she hoped she would be able to provide the credit card information sometime this month.

Houk said that he had not yet received all of the items he has requested, including information about Reynolds’ starting and ending salaries. Reynolds had been with the city for about 20 years. Weber said she has provided Houk with salary ordinances.

Houk said he was scheduled to have a telephone conversation with Britt, the public access counselor, today.

“I’m going to file another formal complaint again tomorrow,” he said Wednesday.

He did not want to disclose details about the complaint before it was filed, except to say that it concerned a different issue than his initial complaint.

Houk said he is seeking the information on behalf of some other local residents. He said he did not want to reveal their identities or motivation for seeking the information before talking to them.

“I’m just a layman trying to get some answers,” he said.

The Public Access Counselor’s office could not be reached Tuesday or Wednesday.

Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; boris.ladwig@greensburgdailynews.com